RLL's Sato heads to Detroit GP with momentum gained at Indy

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing

Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda
Takuma Sato, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda

Photo by: Eric Gilbert

1 WIN, 1 FRONT ROW START, 2 PODIUMS IN 12 BELLE ISLE RACES FOR RLL RACING The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix will mark the IZOD IndyCar Series’ third visit to Detroit, but its first since 2008. The Motor City hosted Indy car racing from 1989-91 in Downtown Detroit. The race moved to Belle Isle Park from 1992-2001 and 2007-2008.

The 2012 event will mark the 13th year for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) to compete at the Raceway at Belle Isle Park. The team’s highest start of second place and highest finish of first in the event came in the inaugural running on Belle Isle in 1992 by Bobby Rahal. In total, the team has earned two podiums (Max Papis 2000 – 2nd), three top-five finishes and nine top-10’s here (chart available). Prior to 2012, the team prepared a total of 20 entries for drivers such as Bobby Rahal (1992-1998), Mike Groff (1993-94), Raul Boesel (1995), Bryan Herta (1996-99), Max Papis (1999-2001), Kenny Brack (2000-01), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2007-08). The No. 15 entry for Takuma Sato will bring that total to 21 in 2012.

Before he started a race team in 1992, Bobby Rahal competed in downtown Detroit from 1989-1991 and earned two second place finishes (’90 and ’91) and retired in 18th place in 1989. In total, he competed in Detroit 10 times (three downtown, seven on Belle Isle).

RLL CONTENDERS FOR INDY 500 WIN ON FINAL LAPS IN 2011 AND 2012 The team was in contention to win the Indy 500 as recent as 2011 and 2012. In 2011 Bertrand Baguette led laps 139-140 and laps 189-197 of the 200 lap race. Had a caution come our before Baguette was forced to pit for a splash of fuel, he might have been the victor. The race ultimately ended under caution when JR Hildebrand crashed on the front straight while in the lead on the final lap. In 2012, Sato led the third most laps at 31 and pulled alongside eventual winner Dario Franchitti in Turn 1 on the final lap to take the lead but lack of traction and/or light contact led to a crash and he finished 17th. Sato is 12th in series standings with a total of 100 points entering Round 6 of 16. Had he won or finished second in the Indy 500 he would be in the top-five of the standings.

SATO ON THE INDY 500 – HINDSIGHT “Obviously I am disappointed in the result but it was definitely one of my best races and I deeply enjoyed the whole race. The thing is, the Indy 500 is all about winning and I was and we were going for the win. No regrets at all. I attacked because it was the last opportunity since it was the last lap. It had to be done at Turn1 because of the wind direction. We had a tail wind at Turn 2 on Sunday which made it difficult to follow the car in front due to loss of downforce with some washout pushing and I had been racing with the Ganassi cars who were quick down the straight for many laps but I wasn't able to overtake them at Turn 3 so I knew it had to be done at Turn 1. There was an opportunity when I caught Dario at the end of the main straight, dove in and we were side by side just turning in to Turn 1. It was tight and close but I was forced to go to the very low lane below the white line and lost grip. I was not happy because we didn't win and felt bad especially for boys and team who did outstanding job but was happy to see all the big smiles from the fans and incredible positive reception. It was a very exciting race and I would like to say a ‘Big thank you’ to all who supported me.”

SATO ON DEBUT AT DETROIT’S BELLE ISLE COURSE IN 2012 Sato will compete in his first race in Detroit in his third season in the series. His highest road/street course start is pole at Edmonton in 2011 and his highest finish is third in Brazil in 2012. He is looking forward to driving at Belle Isle for the first time. “The Detroit Grand Prix is a famous event in history so I know a little about it but only what I saw on TV. It looks like a beautiful course as it is set up in the middle of the park on an island on the Detroit River. It’s quite spectacular scenery. The team has previous experience at Belle Isle so I have some data from that but I don't really know the details of the course until we will have a track walk with the engineers Thursday.”

SATO ON “FASCINATING” SEASON TO DATE So far this season, Takuma has led two of the four road/street races (St. Pete and Long Beach) as well as three of five overall so far with a series best finish of third in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He retired with mechanical failure after leading at St. Pete and again at Barber Motorsports Park. He was third on the final lap in Long Beach when he was hit by Ryan Hunter-Reay who was assessed an “avoidable contact” penalty and when he saw the checkered flag for the first – and only time -- this season in Sao Paulo, Brazil, he earned his best finish in his IndyCar career of third place. Despite only seeing the checkered flag in Brazil, Sato has had a strong season to date. “It has been a very positive, fascinating season so far. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has a long history but we are still a new team because it is a new group of people working together and learning a lot. I feel we are making good progress after every single race and it is a very exciting challenge. I love it.”

SATO ON THE TEAM’S COMPETITIVENESS ON OTHER ROAD/STREET COURSES TRANSFERING TO DETROIT Sato will be one of 12 drivers to compete on the 2.07-mile Belle Isle course for the first time in an Indy car. Others include Rubens Barrichello, Sebastien Bourdais, Mike Conway, Simona de Silvestro, JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, James Jakes, Charlie Kimball, Katherine Legge, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud. Although many teams and drivers have competed on this course before, it will be the firs time to do so with the all-new DW12 chassis. Based on previous performance in 2012, the team has a good road/street course baseline setup and hopes that knowledge will translate favorably to the 14-turn Belle Isle course.

“Some of the knowledge we have gained of the DW12 will apply to Detroit,” said Sato. “We seem to understand the philosophy of the Firestone street course tire well and the fundamental set up won't be so different from the other street courses. However, Detroit has a couple of high speed corners and quite a unique track layout so we will see.”

SATO ON HOW LONG IT WILL TAKE TO LEARN THE BELLE ISLE COURSE “It depends on my mood! I’m kidding. Usually I can learn a course pretty quick. A couple of laps give you quite a lot of idea (about the layout), then you just need to work on the details.”

SATO ON THE IMPORTANCE OF MOMENTUM WITH SIX RACES IN SEVEN WEEKS The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is the only road/street course in a stretch of five-straight races that began with the Indianapolis 500 this past Sunday. Looking forward, the Detroit race is also the start of a stretch that includes five races in the next six weeks that begins and ends with street races in Detroit and Toronto (July 8). In the middle of this is a test at Iowa Speedway on Tuesday, June 12 for Sato. The ability to carry over momentum from strong finishes in these races can make a big impact on the season-ending standings and Sato’s chance of bettering his series best finish of third in Brazil on April 29.

“We definitely have good, positive momentum and our motivation is very high,” said Sato. “We just need to make sure everyone is not worn-out physically and keeping good health. Otherwise we should be very happy to go racing!”

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Takuma Sato , Rubens Barrichello , Raul Boesel , Max Papis , Bobby Rahal , Dario Franchitti , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Ryan Hunter-Reay , Sébastien Bourdais , Katherine Legge , Charlie Kimball , Mike Conway , Eric Gilbert , James Jakes , Bertrand Baguette , Simon Pagenaud , James Hinchcliffe , Simona de Silvestro , Josef Newgarden
Teams Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Tags belle isle, honda, lanigan, letterman, rahal, sato